Maheshi Dassanayake

Maheshi Dassanayake

Principal Investigator

Associate Professor

Guannan Wang

Guannan Wang

Postdoctoral Research Scientist

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in 2014 Fall for my Ph.D. degree.  Currently, I am working on two different projects using molecular biology methods and comparative genomics.One project is to confirm that some structurally different genes identified between Schrenkiella parvula(Sp) and Arabidopsis thaliana(At) by our lab lead to different responses of At and Sp to high concentrations of B3+/Na+/Li+ and identify the potential regulation mechanism.The second project is to identify differences between the genomes of Schrenkiella parvula, Eutrema salsugineum and Arabidopsis thaliana differing in terms of their responses to salt, and identify the differences in their responses to salt stress and the genes associated with these differences.And other collaborations include: (1) the identification of SNPs, small INDELs, and SVs between the genomes of cultivated and weedy rice and, more importantly, candidate genes associated with target traits(seed dormancy and seed shattering) ;(2) the analysis of differentially expressed genes between control and Urate-treated Burkholderia thailandensis.

Google scholar page

Pramod Pantha

Pramod Pantha

Postdoctoral Research Scientist

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in 2015 fall as a Ph.D. graduate student. I am working in Arabidopsis and its related extremophile (Schrenkiella parvula) to study abiotic stress tolerance. I am using modern molecular biology and comparative genomics tool.  I completed my MS from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2015 May. I worked on down-regulation of lignin biosynthetic genes particularly Cinnamyl Alcohol Dehydrogenase (CAD) and Cinnamoyl-CoA Reductase (CCR) in big bluestem grass, a potential feedstock for biofuel.  I completed my undergraduate degree from Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science (IAAS), Nepal in 2012.

Google scholar page

Chathura Wijesinghege

Chathura Wijesinghege

Graduate Student

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in 2016 Fall for my Ph.D. I am interested in uncovering the mechanisms, which plants have acquired over millions of years, that give them the ability to survive in extreme environments using genomic, molecular and computational tools. I have focused my studies on how post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression is fine tuned in halophytes, enabling them to conquer extreme habitats.  Model species I am currently working on are Schrenkiella parvula and Arabidopsis thaliana.

Google scholar page

Samadhi Wimalagunasekara

Samadhi Wimalagunasekara

Graduate Student

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in 2021 Fall as a Ph.D. student. I am studying the convergent evolution of the halophytes using molecular biology and bioinformatics techniques. We have a highly diverse halophyte community, and these plants are phylogenetically distinct in a considerable way. However, all these halophytes share a common adaptive trait of being tolerant to high salt concentrations and can survive under extreme environmental conditions. Currently, I am trying to see whether there is a genomic level convergent evolution between these salt-tolerant plants and if so, what are the responsible positively selected genes, as well as what are the evolutionary mechanisms behind those selections. I achieved my undergraduate degree in Bioinformatics from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2020.

Thu Nguyen

Thu Nguyen

Graduate Student

I joined Dassanayake’s lab in 2021 Fall for my Ph.D. program. I finished my undergraduate and my MS in Biotechnology at Nong Lam University (NLU), Vietnam. I am interested in creating abiotic stress-tolerant plants, so working in this lab gives me the chance to fulfill my dream. I am currently working on molecular biology techniques like CRISPR to make transgenic/gene-edited lines with salt tolerance traits in two research model plants:  Arabidopsis thaliana, and Schrenkiella parvula.

Sara Armstrong

Sara Armstrong

Graduate Student

I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in 2022 Fall as a Ph.D. student. I graduated from LSU with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a minor in Geology in 2019. I helping to pioneer a Planetary Geobiology Ph.D. program here at LSU, where I will not only be working in this lab but also with the Planetary Science Lab in the geology department. With these two labs I will be working on research involving extremophytes and how these plants could potentially grow in extreme environments like Mars for future manned missions.

Amaya Wanniarachchi

Amaya Wanniarachchi

Graduate Student

In the fall of 2022, I began working in Dassanayake's lab as a Ph.D. candidate in planetary geo biology. At the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, I studied geology as my major for my undergraduates. Working in this facility allows me to pursue my passion of growing plants in extreme environments such as Mars. I am now researching the geological settings of two research model plants, Arabidopsis thaliana and Schrenkiella parvula, in their natural habitats.

Richard S Garcia

Richard S Garcia

Graduate Student

Before I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in Fall 2022, I had previously worked on agricultural crops such as rice, sorghum, maize and foxtail millet at International Rice Research Institute and LSU-Agricultural Center. I finished my BS in Biology and MS in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines. Basically, I have been in plant science research for a while; also, I love plants. Right now, I want to realize my research ideas in understanding plant abiotic stresses for my PhD. Here at Dr. Dassanayake’s lab I will have that opportunity. I will be using brassica extremophyte species using transcriptomic, ionomic and metabolomic studies to understand the physiology, biochemistry and underlying mechanisms of plant abiotic stress tolerance.

Ashley Doan

Ashley Doan

Undergraduate Student

My name is Ashley Doan and I am a Junior majoring in Biological Sciences with a minor in Textiles and Fashion Merchandising. I joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab because I wanted to gain more experience in lab work and research and ultimately broaden my knowledge about biology. I am also interested in how this research correlates to the rapidly changing environment. I have learned a lot of things so far in the lab, such as sterilizing seeds and growing and maintaining plants. Outside of the lab, I enjoy watching documentaries and going to the UREC.

August Steinkamp

August Steinkamp

Undergraduate Student

My name is August Steinkamp and I majoring in microbiology with an interest in medicine. I am currently being trained to work in Dr. Dassanayake’s lab through PFLR. I am extremely interested in the medical potential of stem cells. Outside of science, in my spare time I enjoy playing guitar, cooking, and running.

Jason Garcia

Jason Garcia

Undergraduate Student

I am a Biochemistry major minoring in Physics who joined Dr. Dassanayake’s lab in early 2021 as I found the transformation research they were doing really interesting. Since then I’ve been phenotyping the species Schrenkiella parvula, Eutrema salsugineum, and Arabidopsis thaliana when exposed to different concentrations of Na+.

Khadijah Taite

Khadijah Taite

Undergraduate Student

My name is Khadijah Taite & I'm majoring in biology and minoring in environmental sciences. I am a first-year undergraduate laboratory assistant contributing towards research to understand salt tolerant mechanisms in Eutrema salsugineum and Schrenkiella parvula. Outside if the lab, my hobbies include writing poetry, making jewelry, & baking.

Former lab members

Former lab members

Past postdocs, graduate students, and lab managers 

  • Dr. Dong-Ha Oh, Research assistant professor (2013-2022)

  • Dr. Kieu-Nga Tran, Postdoc (2021-2022)

  • Kieu-Nga Tran, Graduate student (2015-2021)

  • Dr. Narender Kumar, Postdoc (2015 - 2017) 

  • Swati Tyagi, Lab manager (2015 - 2017) 

  • Sandra DiTusa, Lab manager (2014-2015) 

  • Dr. Subbaiah Chalivendra, Postdoc (2013 - 2014)


Past undergraduate students

  • Saad Chaudhari- 2018-2022 (Pre-med, biochemistry major)

  • Todd Thibodaux- 2018-2022 (Microbiology major)

  • Megan Guilbeau--2018-2021 (President's Student Aid, Biology Major)

  • Jordan Vivien-- 2016-2020 (President's Student Aid, Biology Major)

  • Christine Tran -- 2017-2020 (Biology Major)

  • Sravya Pochana- 2017-2018 (President's Student Aid, Biology Major)

  • Cally Quick- 2017-2018 (President's Student Aid, Biology Major)

  • Ashley Clement- 2017-2018 (Biology Major)

  • Delaney Campagna- 2016-2018 (Biology Major)

  • Lauren Taylor –2015 -2017, graduated Dec 2017 (Honors College; Chancellor's Aide; Biology Major)

  • John Johnson –2014 – 2017, graduated May 2017 (Honors College; Chancellor's Aide; Biochemistry Major)

  • Cameron Fleur –2015 -2017, graduated May 2017 (Biology Major)

  • Harel Schwartzberg – 2017 Spring (Biology Major)

  • Melody Salmanian - 2015-2017 (Honors College; Chancellor's Aide; Microbiology Major)

  • Matthew Johnson –2014 -2016, graduated May 2016 (McNair Scholar; BIOL 3999; Biology Major)

  • Madison Boudreaux – 2014 -2016, graduated May 2016 (BIOL 3999; Honors College; Chancellor's Aide; Biology Major)

  • Blake Delacroix –2015 Fall- 2016 Fall (Honors College; Biochemistry Major)

  • Trey Leiva –2016 Spring (Volunteer; Biology Major)

  • Sadie Thompson –2016 Spring (Volunteer; Biology Major)

  • Emily Asbury –2015 (BIOL 3999; Conservation Sciences Major)

  • Vaibhav Rajora - 2015 Fall (Physics major)

  • Kieu-Nga Tran – 2014-2015, graduated May 2015 (Biology Major)

  • Ross Kelt – 2014 -2015, graduated May 2015 (Biology Major)

  • Mary Bergeron- 2014 (Biology Major)

  • Kendall Dicke – 2013 (Engineering Major)

  • Stephanie Presedo (School of Veterinary Medicine)

  • Thuy-Mai Nguyen – 2013 Fall, graduated December 2013 (Biology Major)


Visiting scholars

  • Michele F da Silva- University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Campinas, SP, Brazil ; Dissertation research; August, 2022

  • Dr. Patrick Finnegan – University of Western Australia; Sabbatical research; Oct – December 2017

  • Michelle Arland - Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel - Ph.D. advisee of Gidon Winters and Simon Barak; Dissertation research; Jun-Sep 2017

  • Mariana Vargas Cruz - Univ. Est de Campinas, Brazil - Ph.D. advisee of Anete Pereira de Souza; Dissertation research; Feb – August, 2016

  • Gil Eshel – Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel - Ph.D. advisee of Simon Barak; Dissertation research; Jan-Feb 2016